Tisbury will review beer/wine regs
Tisbury voters can get a refill on discussions about beer and wine licensing regulations at a special work session set by the selectmen at 5 pm Tuesday, March 23, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
The review of possible licensing regulations relates to a question on the April 27 town election ballot, when voters will be asked to approve a special act of the legislature authorizing the selectmen to grant beer and wine licenses to eligible restaurants.
Next week, the selectmen will dust off and take another look at beer and wine regulations drafted two years ago in preparation for the possibility of a "yes" vote on a similar ballot question in April 2008. The regulations were shelved when the question did not pass - by two votes - as determined in a recount.
The language provided by State legislators for this year's ballot question reads, "Shall the board of selectmen of the town of Tisbury be authorized to grant 19 licenses for the sale of wines and malt beverages to be drunk on the premises of restaurants, including restaurants within inns and hotels, with seating capacities of not less than 30 persons, to be consumed with meals only, and only to patrons who are seated at dining tables, and to grant seasonal licenses for the same as the selectmen may determine?"
Those who think it sounds familiar are right. The 2008 ballot question was quite similar. What's different this time around is that the ballot question specifies a certain number of beer and wine licenses, as required by law.
The current initiative to end Tisbury's dry status began in January 2009 with a petition filed by a group of 11 voters with the town clerk. The petition requested that the selectmen place an article on the town meeting warrant last spring for approval to file a home rule petition request with the state legislature to grant licenses for the sale of beer and wine in certain restaurants and inns. No bars or package stores would be allowed.
Voters approved the article 136-109 on April 15, the second night of Tisbury's 2009 annual town meeting.
After town meeting, the selectmen drafted similar legislation to that submitted in 2008, which would have allowed them to issue licenses without a quota. Although the state Senate counsel and legislators in office at that time approved the previous legislation, current Senate counsel requested a change in the wording.
As the selectmen learned, according to Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 138, Section 17, the legislation must stipulate how many year-round licenses a town may issue. As a result, they came up with a list of 19 Vineyard Haven restaurants with the potential to meet the eligibility requirements for a beer and wine license, based on seating capacity and the capability to convert to dining and wait staff services.
The list includes restaurants whose owners may or may not have expressed any interest in getting a beer and wine license.
"The way it's worded on the ballot question, it says that voters are giving the selectmen the right to issue 19 licenses; it does not say 'up to' 19 licenses," selectman Geoghan Coogan explained in a recent phone call. "But that's because the state says you either have to have a specific number of licenses or a number based on the limits of the population, which doesn't take seasonal licenses into account. You can't say 'up to.'"
In an effort to get in front of the issue, the selectmen sent out a press release Tuesday clarifying their position. "We are acutely aware of the fact that 19 licenses is a very high number for a town of our size to sustain and the town will not issue all 19 licenses at the same time," selectman chairman Tristan Israel said in the release.
The selectmen intend to initially grant only five or six licenses, Mr. Coogan said. The state advised the town to request the maximum number, he added, because, "You can always grant fewer, but you can't grant more."
Mr. Coogan, who is an attorney, explained that to add just one additional license once a number has been specified in legislation would require the town to go through the whole process again, a town meeting vote, special legislation, and a ballot vote.
Given that much debate about the pros and cons of selling beer and wine in Tisbury restaurants has already taken place, Mr. Coogan said the selectmen's work session would focus on the town's licensing regulations instead.
"We know if the measure passes, people will be applying immediately for licenses for the summer season," Mr. Coogan said. "To get a liquor license takes a couple of months, so we need to be ready with regulations when their applications come in."
After the work session, Mr. Coogan said the selectmen would probably hold another public hearing to go over the regulations one more time before voting on them at an upcoming board meeting.